As you all have probably noticed, plant-based products are popping up everywhere from your local grocery store to your favorite restaurants. At Expo West we saw many companies capitalizing on the success of launching plant-based products and have expanded their applications and types of plant-based offerings. These products are not limited to dairy alternatives but have made their way into snacks, supplements, and meat alternatives. Some consumers are trying to avoid meat and dairy entirely, others are limiting just red meat, and others are flexitarians (or those who participate sometimes for example on #nomeatmondays or #veganuary).
Eating a plant-based diet has been linked to many health benefits as well as being more sustainable for the environment, both of which are a large concern for consumers today. As we focus more on layered wellness (mind, body, and spirit wellness) this trend is here to stay.
At the Expo West there were pistachio, oat and pea milks taking center stage. Companies like Happy Planet Milk, Suja plant protein milk, and 137 degrees pistachio milk have reacted to the plant-based craze and introduced new plant-based beverages. As consumers try to limit their amount of dairy and add dietary restrictions, these beverages will be increasingly desired. One of our experts in this space, Ashley Wesley, Group Lead of Sweet Goods and previous Product Marketing Manager, says:
Consumers want it to taste great, look great and have a nice texture. With alternative milks, the main attributes to consider are 1) taste, 2) texture, and 3) appearance. Consumers expect it to taste similar to dairy milk, but do not expect for it to be an exact match.”
Wesley suspects this is because milks are often consumed with cereal, coffee, tea, etc., whereas yogurt needs to taste very similar to its dairy counterpart. This is likely because it acts as a stand-alone (consumed as is) and is often a substitute for a dessert.
Yogurt has quickly followed in the footsteps of milk with product innovations featuring chia and probiotic options. Yogurt companies mostly have focused on pea, cashew, and almond proteins, but we are starting to see brands branch out with new dairy alternatives such as oat. One thing to consider with oat is that there is essentially no protein play unless they blend with another protein source. In our last focus group, many consumers were interested in this concept because they are familiar with oatmeal and the benefits that it provides. Some interesting products recently debuted are Vega, Coconut Collaborative, Yooga, Follow Your Heart, Daiya, and Califia.
As many companies are exploring different types of protein, this offers many variances from color to texture and taste. Flavors that work really well here are warm browns (i.e. maple, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, chai, caramel) or fruits such as blueberry, tropical, or peach. All of these flavors would taste great and work well with the color hue of the yogurt base. While strawberry and vanilla are 2 of the 3 core yogurt flavors, their appearance in plant-based yogurts can be challenging for a consumer to overcome. If we flavored with just strawberry the base would look pinkish grey, but pair it with banana and now you have a very popular flavor (strawberry banana) and are even closer to the color hue that would be expected by the consumer. It’s also important to consider the consumer and their overall eating behaviors (i.e. vegan for instance). Honey would perform well, but honey is not considered a vegan item. Also, steer clear from blending fanciful dessert type profiles (i.e. apple crumble or carrot cake). These consumers want simple, clear labels, not flavors inspired by desserts.
Lastly, we see plant-based offerings in snacking, supplements, baby foods, protein powders, and meal alternatives. Baby food producer Sprouts has launched 20 plant-based puree and snacks for babies and toddlers. Clean Machine won a Nexty award for their plant protein powder mix and we also saw Beyond Meat extend their offerings by launching their Beyond Sausage, a 100% plant-based meat analog.
Plant-based products have shown an incredible amount of growth over the past few years and we are excited to see this trend evolve and grow over time.
Thanks to our expert Ashley Wesley for sharing her knowledge in this space, this article would not be possible without her.